Lately, it seems like alligators are popping up all over the place, but especially where residents least expect. Outside of Florida, many are unaccustomed to seeing these massive reptiles in real life, and the consequences of being neighbors to an alligator could be harmful to the animal or the community members.
A park in Middlesex Borough, NJ, was closed to the public on August 28, 2023, after reports of an alligator in the waters of the park.
The Middlesex alligator loose in Lake Creighton and Ambrose Brook, a channel connecting the lake to the Raritan River, was first discovered on August 23, 2023, by landscaper Mario Fincher, who saw the reptile in a small tributary behind a client’s backyard where he was working, Patch reported.
What's going on with this alligator sighting? Have there been other alligators in New Jersey? Here's what you need to know.
In Middlesex, New Jersey, an alligator escaped and remained on the loose.
Despite attempts by the Middlesex Police Department to catch or “neutralize” the gator, the Middlesex alligator remained on the loose as of August 29. Officials estimate that the alligator is between three and four feet long and is most likely a pet that someone dumped, Patch reports.
"Citizens are strongly urged to stay away from Creighton Lake and the Ambrose Brook and should NOT approach or make attempts to capture the alligator," states a Middlesex Borough Police Department news release posted to Facebook. "In the interest of the public safety of our community, Victor Crowell Park will be closed to the public for a minimum of 72 hours or until such time that the alligator is deemed to no longer be a threat."
Police officers tried to shoot the escaped alligator, leading to public outcry.
In the news release, officials said an officer shot at the “potentially dangerous species of non-indigenous reptile, which is capable of inflicting serious or fatal injuries” in an “attempt to neutralize it,” but “the alligator immediately submerged into the brook, and it was unconfirmed if the attempt was successful.”
Many people responding to the police department news release on Facebook questioned whether killing the alligator was the only recourse.
"I don't understand why it has to be killed? It hasn't hurt anyone! Why can't he be relocated to Florida Zoo," said one commenter. "NJ needs to have trained game people available so we don't have to kill wildlife just because folks don't know how to catch the animal," said another.
It should be noted that zoos are not ideal for rehoming wild animals as they cause animals physical and mental distress, amongst other issues.
CBS New York reported on August 29 that the police department is working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish & Wildlife Conservation to capture the alligator with a “humane trap.”
Alligators are a rare, but not an uncommon occurrence in New Jersey.
Surprisingly enough, this isn’t the first time an alligator has been on the loose in New Jersey. Although owning an alligator as a pet in New Jersey is illegal, some people break the rules but then abandon the reptiles when they become too big to manage. This phenomenon of purchasing then abandoning creatures is not unlike the reason Burmese pythons are now an invasive species in Florida.
In January 2023, a Neptune Township man who called the police to report an alligator he “found” turned out to actually be the owner of the reptile who no longer wanted it. In 2018, a 2-foot baby alligator was found in Old Bridge by a man walking his dog.
The Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey, New Jersey, reportedly gets a couple of phone calls a year from people who own alligators as pets and can no longer care for them, zoo director John Bergmann told The Ashbury Park Press.
“They get too big, they get a little dangerous, you can’t afford to feed them or can’t afford to get them (housed) in something larger, and they end up abandoned someplace,” Bergmann told the Park Press.
Hopefully, the alligator will be caught humanely and stress-free and relocated to an area safe for them to live in.